Amber Adams-Progar researches stress in dairy cattle, but her work is about more than just the behaviors of these milk-making animals. She’s concerned about the safety of the people working with these animals, and she’s helping launch a statewide dairy safety network this spring. The aim is to help dairy farmers and farm employees avoid costly injuries.
Nothing like sharing close quarters with a 1-ton dairy cow to create risk. It’s important that farmers and their employees have the knowledge and awareness to avoid preventable injuries. A single slip could mean a crushed finger, broken bones or worse and that could add up to thousands of dollars of lost productivity, and perhaps higher insurance premiums for the farm.
Adams-Progar is an assistant professor with the Washington State University Department of Animal Sciences, and she’s partnered with dairy farmers and researchers across the state to help farmers and their employees master safer farm practices. Part of that effort is the launch this spring of the Washington State Dairy Safety Network (DSN). This is a collaboration among the Washington State Dairy Federation, WSU and the University of Washington’s Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center.
The program is funded by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ Safety & Health Investment Projects Program.
Adams-Progar noted that many new employees have little livestock experience. “They’re starting from scratch. They need to quickly learn lessons that experienced animal handlers take for granted. Never stand between a cow and her calf, or never put your hand between an animal and a concrete wall. Many people don’t think about having an exit strategy from a pen or chute until it’s too late,” she says.
Animals, stress and safety
At WSU, Adams-Progar and her students study stress in dairy cattle with an eye on improved management practices, helping boost animal well-being and farm performance.
She explains that for the network, she’s looking at cow behavior to determine how best to train people to interact with the animals safely. “Ultimately, the goal is to improve both human and animal safety,” she says.
For this 18-month project, the Washington State DSN partners are developing a range of resources, including an online, interactive tool for dairy safety knowledge and training materials, ensuring that farmers, managers and employees can find needed information in English and Spanish.
A first step for the network is a “Train the Trainer” program that Adams-Progar will develop. She will research common animal-related injuries, such as crushed fingers, and then build training sessions that help farmers prevent them from happening. That program will also be offered in English and Spanish.
Adams-Progar explains that with the training, farmers, managers and staff will have the tools needed to keep themselves and their animals safe. “We’re empowering people to go back to their dairies and train their own employees,” she says. “It’s an exciting opportunity to help Northwest dairies become safer and more productive.”